RNLI’s man’s Paralympic dream role

Joe Byrne and his daughter Hannah
Joe Byrne and his daughter Hannah
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A KILKEEL lifeboat man has said the opportunity to help out at the Paralympic Games next month is “a dream come true”.

Joe Byrne, the sea safety officer with the Kilkeel Royal National Lifeboat Institute, is set to be a field of play marshal at the Games.

Originally from Rostrevor, Joe applied along with thousands of others to be a 2012 London Games Maker and went through a lengthy selection process before hearing he was successful earlier this year.

He has been chosen to be a field of play marshal for the sailing team that will oversee the Paralympics sailing event from September 1-6 at Weymouth.

“It is part of a high-profile team which will be tasked to ensure that the all-important sailing area is properly marshalled and protected, ensuring athletes have an uninterrupted race area,” he said.

Joe has been the sea safety officer at Kilkeel RNLI since April 2008 as well as being a lifelong supporter of the lifeboats. He has also been involved with Carlingford Lough Yacht Club for 30 years.

“I expressed an interest in getting involved with the RNLI five years ago and was invited to be the sea safety officer in Kilkeel, which was an enormous privilege, and I have been doing it ever since,” he said.

“I enjoy talking to people and giving presentations. Water safety is something that is very close to my heart and if I can do some small bit then it makes it all worthwhile.”

Joe said it was a great privilege and a huge personal honour to represent the RNLI at the unique sailing event: “I first registered an interest in being a volunteer for the Games online four years ago.

“Then two-and-a-half years ago I had to fill in a detailed questionnaire. Interviews were held in Belfast last year and at the start of this year I heard that I had been accepted for a role in the Paralympics.

“I must admit that was a good day. It’s the pinnacle of what I love to do. It is like getting the opportunity to officiate at the FA Cup.”

A total of 80 athletes will be sailing for gold in the waters of Weymouth Bay, competing in three mixed events – the single-person, two-person and three-person keelboat competitions.

The events run from Saturday, September 1 until September 6.

Joe is set to arrive in Weymouth ahead of the Games on August 28 where there will training for volunteers and practice for the competitors before the main event gets under way.

Throughout the Olympics, RNLI lifeboat crews provided safety and medical cover for the competitive sailing events in Weymouth, and this will continue for the Paralympics.

The charity’s volunteers will be operating three Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboats, with each boat carrying three crew members.